Fleet vehicles are a financial asset and an environmental liability. They keep businesses running, but they’re often a company’s No. 1 source of greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and smog-forming pollutants. Cleaner-running vehicles represent a great opportunity to reduce one’s ecological footprint. But, becoming a better environmental steward comes with a price tag, which is especially tough in a down economy.
The lifecycle experts at Vincentric, a company that measures and analyzes the overall cost of owning and operating vehicles and its impact on the value provided to buyers, provided cost data for popular fleet sedan and crossover models along with the outputs of smog-forming pollutants and GHGs, examining which models offer the best combination of lifecycle cost and environmental benefit.
Vincentric weighed eight cost factors for configurations in the 2012 model-year to determine overall lifecycle costs for three years/60,000 miles: depreciation, fuel, insurance, opportunity cost, financing, maintenance, taxes and state fees, and repairs.
These costs were integrated with the Vincentric Fleet Price, which estimates the acquisition cost for each vehicle in the study.
Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Vincentric calculated GHG (tons per year) and smog (pounds per year) emissions for the three-year/60,000-mile period.
There are many factors to review when looking at a vehicle’s environmental impact, including total lifecycle cost, the output of smog-forming pollutants, and total GHG emissions.
For compact cars, the 2012 Ford Focus S achieves a combined 30 mpg with a lifecycle cost of $17,628. A close second was the Honda Civic DX with a total lifecycle cost of $17,809. The Toyota Corolla base model rounded out the top three with a total lifecycle cost of $18,248.
For intermediate cars, the Volkswagen Jetta SE PZEV achieved a combined 27 mpg and has a total lifecycle cost of only $19,798. The Toyota Camry Hybrid LE came in at a close second with a total lifecycle cost of $19,851. The Volkswagen Jetta Diesel TDI rounded out the top three with a total lifecycle cost of $20,653.For SUVs/crossovers, the Ford Escape LXS 4WD took the lead with 23 combined mpg and a total lifecycle cost of $22,653. A close second was the Toyota Highlander, base model, four-cylinder engine at $22,774. The Ford Escape Limited 4WD rounded out the top three with a total lifecycle cost of $23,293.
Finally, taking the lead for luxury (entry level/prestige) cars was the Audi A4 2.0T premium with 24 combined mpg and a total lifecycle cost of $26,649. With a gap of just under $1,000, the Audi A6 2.0T Premium had the second-lowest total lifecycle cost at $27,536 and rounding out the top three was the Mercedes-Benz C300.
The next breakdown is by GHG emissions. Taking the lead in this category was the Toyota Prius I, with only 11.73 tons of GHG emissions over three years/60,000 miles. The Honda Civic Hybrid came in a close second with 13.35 tons, and the Toyota Camry Hybrid LE rounded out the top three with 14.31 tons of GHG emissions over three years/60,000 miles. Three vehicles shared the No. 10 ranking with 20.25 tons of GHG emissions over the 60,000-mile range.
Looking at smog-forming pollutants, six vehicles shared the top spot with only 11.25 lbs. of smog-forming pollutants over three years/60,000 miles: Toyota Prius I, Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Camry Hybrid LE, Ford Fusion Hybrid, and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid 4WD. Fourteen vehicles shared the No. 2 ranking with 14.55 lbs. of smog-forming pollutants over 60,000 miles.
While the Toyota Prius I ranked fourth in total lifecycle cost at $18,443 with a combined mpg of 50 (the highest reported combined mpg of all vehicles in this analysis), it was ranked No. 1 in emitting the least amount of smog-forming pollutants and GHG emissions.
Smart Decision Making
There is more to performing a green fleet analysis than simply looking at lowest total cost of ownership. This analysis is only a small sample of models and is intended to provide a basis for an individual fleet’s cost analysis, minus many other important factors, such as driver preference and vehicle utility.
While alternative-fueled and powered vehicles grab the spotlight, a more complete view of a fleet’s environmental impact requires a measurement of the fleet’s total GHG emissions and smog-forming pollutants. By doing this, less dramatic changes, such as merely switching cylinders on similar models, will show their impact.
● Smog-forming pollution is created by two types of vehicle emissions: hydrocarbons (including non-methane organic compounds or NMOG) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx). When combined with sunlight, they create smog.
● Greenhouse gas emissions are a function of fuel combustion. Such gases trap heat in the atmosphere, creating a greenhouse effect. Greenhouse gases emitted from vehicles include carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), and relatively small amounts of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and black carbon.
● Green Fleet used federal emissions (rather than California-based) standards to simplify comparisons.
● This analysis used models with automatic transmissions or fleet model designations.
● Two-wheel-drive only versions were included, unless model or engine level is exclusively four-wheel drive.